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[whitespace] Timber giant Redwood Empire is under continuing attack for questionable logging practices in Gamecock Canyon

By Kelly Luker

ONE OF THE COUNTY'S most prolific timber harvesters is Redwood Empire, a San Jose-based company with lumber mills in Cloverdale and Belmont and with holdings of more than 7,000 acres of timberland throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains. Redwood Empire, which is owned by Roger Burch, is one of the most controversial harvesters, particularly when it comes to a 300-acre parcel known as Gamecock Canyon, located off Summit Road near Corralitos. The timber harvest there has engendered lawsuits, demonstrations, equipment sabotage, public scrutiny and a host of violations cited by the CDF due to questionable logging practices by Redwood Empire. The road-building techniques by one of Redwood Empire's contractors have spurred the Santa Cruz district attorney's office to pursuing civil action.

Public documents on file with the CDF paint a grim picture that includes destroyed canopy, trees taken without approval, garbage and debris strewn throughout the forest, lack of supervision and poorly constructed roads. In fact, the violations were so numerous and blatant that the CDF's deputy director of resource management, Craig E. Anthony, sent off a blistering letter to Burch in January of this year. In a surprising deviation from his agency's typically neutral tone, Anthony opened his missive to Burch with "It is with great displeasure that I write this letter to you relative to the harvest activities that have transpired on ... Gamecock Canyon."

An angry Anthony outlined a series of violations and was highly critical of Redwood Empire's registered professional forester Peter Twight's reassurances. Anthony suggested that "with the track record of the present LTO [licensed timber operator], it may be warranted to require constant supervision to achieve acceptable results." Hired forester Twight has encountered problems before as an RPF. His license was "voluntarily relinquished" from 1993 to 1995 following a CDF hearing. Twight's responsibilities as a registered forester are to submit an acceptable harvesting plan to the state, then shepherd each phase of logging--and each subcontractor--through to completion according to regulations.

Numerous documents, including Anthony's letter, question Twight's ability to do this. Anthony wrote, "The RPF has accepted the responsibility of supervising the operation. As such, he should be on site a sufficient amount of time to ensure operations are conducted in a manner required. ..."

Apparently, Twight had some problems supervising timber operator Jack Hayward. Hayward's road construction--or lack of it--and somewhat lax interpretations of logging regulations drew the attention of Santa Cruz County assistant district attorney Morgan Taylor, who is preparing a civil suit against Hayward for his violations. "I am going to pursue this case, and I think it is worth pursuing and so does CDF," Taylor says. "But I will first make a proposal to Hayward for a settlement."

In a letter dated Feb. 23, 1998, the California State Department of Fish and Game discussed the findings in a December postharvest inspection. Besides noting the loss of canopy, the felling of unmarked trees and the removal from the creek of woody debris which is necessary for habitat, the inspection discovered sediment dumped in the watercourses that feed into the Corralitos watershed. The sediment came, according to the report, from the removal of that woody debris, as well as from improperly constructed roads.

A postharvest inspection by geologist Timothy C. Best notes that "there are several problems with road construction." And the CDF issued an inspection report in November that listed 13 violations--eight of those violations addressing road and skid-trail construction.

The only hope for Gamecock Canyon is summed up in geologist Best's report: "The sediment ... is in the system, and the damage has been done. Mitigation for this impact will be to assure that future erosion impacts to the site are minimized."

(Note: Redwood Empire's Burch did not respond to repeated phone calls for a comment on this story.)

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From the April 16-22, 1998 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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